For the first half of my Japan trip, Kyoto was burning a hole in the back of my head. Each time we saw a temple in Tokyo or any of the other towns we visited I couldn’t help but think, I wonder how much more awesome they’re going to be in Kyoto.

Outside Yasaka Shrine

Once I got there, I realized that it wasn’t so much that the temples were better in Kyoto… it’s that they are everywhere.

Kennin-ji
Heian Shrine

You can’t throw a stick in Kyoto without hitting a temple. It’s almost impossible to describe to you how dense that city is with history. To give context, in my travels across numerous western countries I’ve seen roughly 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Just because a place is historic, doesn’t mean it’s a world heritage site. For example, London is dripping in history but the only UNESCO site there is Westminster Abbey. In Kyoto? They have 17 total sites. 17!

Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine

When I plan to travel to a city, my goal is to see everything. I’d rather bust ass and walk 8 miles a day, than feel like I missed out on things. My theory is that you never know when you’re going to be back.

Nijo Castle
Yasaka Shrine

My group planned 5 nights in Kyoto, and agreed to spend one of those days doing a trip out to Nara (more on this later) — so that left us with 4 solid touring days in Kyoto. Honestly, I could have spent two weeks there and not seen everything. Even with accomplishing a ton, I saw 7 of the 17 UNESCO sites and more temples and shrines than I can count.

Kinkaku-ji
Ginkaju-ji

In pictures and film, Kyoto looks like this serene place of introspection and beauty. Though that is true, it’s also completely overflowing with tourists. I saw more westerners in Kyoto than I did in Tokyo, which surprised me. For each beautiful temple, garden or shrine, there were giant swarms of people I had to navigate around and patiently wait to clear out of my pictures.

Daigo-ji

Daigo-ji

Some places were so popular that I dragged my group out as early as we could muster, so I could get some pristine shots without people milling about everywhere. I wasn’t always successful, but I think many of my Kyoto pictures reflect the quiet peacefulness that the structures originally created.

Tenryu-ji
Chion-in
Chion-in

For some future posts, I’ll drill down more into individual places we went to that left an impression on me. I enjoyed Kyoto so much that it’s firmly on my list of places to return to in future travels… I just gotta see the rest of those UNESCO sites!

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